Chris Uggen's Blog: the putatively innocent question

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

the putatively innocent question

the last few posts have been a little long, dry, and windy. here's some lighter fare. eating lunch today, i was reminded of a couple of putatively innocent questions that nevertheless delivered a wicked, wicked critique. this seems to be a wonderfully effective and generally good-humored way to deliver a slam. these actually cracked me up, even though i was the butt or target [they were laughing with me, right?]. the names have been stricken to protect me from further ridicule.

chris: [mumbles incoherently about faxing something while eating lunch]
unnamed research assistant: seriously, is that really how you hold your fork?
chris: [looking suspiciously at hand holding said utensil] umm, yeah, i guess, why?
unnamed research assistant: no reason.

no reason! who would observe you holding a fork and then ask if that's "really" how you hold it unless you were holding it in a really weird way? i'd like to say that the critique undercut my confidence and that i didn't eat in public for a week, but that would be embellishing. i learned long ago that, if i'm not being careful, i really do hold my fork like a barbarian (sort of the way you would hold it if you were wearing mittens). so i could laugh right away at that one.

but i wasn't always so confident. i remember a similarly innocent question that turned my knees to jelly back in high school. i was the least accomplished member of a not-very-accomplished cover band called the habbit [yup, that's how we spelled it. to this day, i don't know whether we were referencing tolkien, substance dependency, or nun gear]. about two minutes before we were introduced at our first (only) big show at the old prom ballroom in st. paul, something like this exchange took place.
chris: [looks around nervously, wiggling foot while awaiting the big moment.]
unnamed drummer: seriously, are you really going to wear that shirt?
chris: umm, yeah, i guess, why?
unnamed drummer: no reason.

i struck back quickly, as young lads are wont to do, and tried to laugh it off to break the tension ["dude! you don't go ripping on a guy's wardrobe just before they are about to, like, carry the whole band in front of, like, a hundred people! were you, like, unable to find the right time to tell me during the, like, five hours we were unloading and setting up? dude!!!]

still, i spent the show deeply concerned over the scorn and derision that my poor choice of shirts would surely rain down upon the band. what if the habbit never got a record deal because i was wearing a green wrestling singlet over a girls' softball t-shirt (and yes, i did cop the girls' softball idea from a suicide commandos cover. it wasn't even original)? if i remember correctly, the drummer wore a plaid shirt with snaps instead of buttons. very rock and roll.

i confess that i too have lobbed putatively innocent questions upon the unsuspecting. sometimes i've even thought of such questions but pulled back when it seemed sadistic (e.g., "seriously, was that your real job talk?" or, "is that the actual story you're going to go with?"). so here are my [genuinely?] innocent questions: is this a widespread phenomenon? are there influential precedents or examples in art or literature? is it a cohort thing? i can't imagine my grandparents asking each other if that was "really" how they held their silverware, but my kids talk like that all the time.

4 Comments:

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Kim said...

As I recall, junior high school girls are masters of this. "Nice outfit. Did your mom buy it on sale at Sears?" More friendly than simply beating someone up physically, but nonetheless quite effective in establishing a status order.

 
At 9:45 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

I don't know about origins, but I do think the phenomenon is pretty widespread. I do it a lot. But I don't think it's always done to establish status order. I think sometimes it really is curiosity. For example, the other day, Chris, I thought about asking you, "Are you really wearing cuff links?" The last time I saw anyone wearing cuff links was at my wedding - and my husband only wore them 'cause they came with the tux. I'm wondering, are sociologists just "dressier" than social workers? Is there a dress code for criminologists? Should I wear my navy pantsuit the next time we meet? Or is that just your style?

Speaking of singlets, did you hear how Cole Konrad pinned Steve Mocco (now of Okie State but used to be a Hawkeye - traitor!!) to secure a Gopher victory at National Duals last week? The miserable Hawks put in a 6th place finish. This Sunday's meet should be lots of fun!

 
At 5:39 PM, Anonymous chris said...

that's right, kim. i won't name names, but i have personal knowledge of this phenomenon among junior high school girls. the latest thing is "sadly," as in:

"are you coming with me to the movie?"
"sadly, yes."

ouch. the status order is thereby established.

yes, sarah, ASA now issues cufflinks to all sociologists (with little GPS devices so we're easier to track). nah -- men's clothes are so boring that some of us dudes (i.e., the foppish dandies) are driven to accessorize. i'd suggest cufflinks.com for your husband's next birthday. and a nice black or white shirt.

your wrestling comment inspired me, so i wrote about heavyweights and posted a link to the video of the mocco/conrad match.

 
At 9:25 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Thanks for the cufflinks clarification, Chris. I'm still trying to get my husband to throw away t-shirts he's had since junior high school, so...we might have a ways to go before getting to the cufflinks "level."

I bought my tickets today for Sunday's meet. I'm so excited, I even downloaded the NCAA wrestling rulebook to refresh my memory on terminology. How dorky is that?!?

 

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